This is the second book in the Ellery College series, but is fully enjoyable as a standalone.
Zach O’Malley is a recent college grad working as a house painter in Ellery, VT until he leaves for grad school in Boston at the end of the summer. He’s out and gay, and currently separated from his on-again/off-again boyfriend. While trying to make some sense of his life and path, he decides that mindless summer job will keep him busy. Zach’s friend Ray pairs him up with Kirby Kurtcehajic, an openly gay 19-year-old high school grad who has few prospects beyond manual labor. Kirby lives off his grandparents’ land in a handmade yurt (wool tent home), and he’s more than enamored with Zach.
Kirby is a free spirit, and that’s really awesome considering his mother is a heroin addict and his father cut him out due to his sexuality. Zach finds Kirby attractive, but he’s not really willing to start anything serious. But why does anything need to be serious, Kirby asks. Can’t Kirby just help Zach feel good for the time they have?
This book has a lot of quiet plot development. Kirby and Zach do end up getting together, and it’s good. But, it’s not all good. Kirby gets injured and he’s out-of-commission, causing Zach to adopt his (unwelcome) uber-caretaker role. Zach’s got a hero complex, and he’s super paranoid about both Kirby’s physical health and his own sexual health. Despite coming from completely different backgrounds, they develop a strong bond. It actually overwhelms both of them. I felt that aspect was pretty realistic. I liked how Kirby was so concerned about his future, and also ensuring that Zach didn’t make destructive choices in order to care for him. It’s a very sweet read, with great supporting characters. Zach’s younger sister is a fun confidante. Ray is as headstrong as in Uncovering Ray. I also enjoyed the positive light cast on Zach’s church. He receives some excellent counsel from the gay minister and counselor there, which is generally the opposite scenario in M/M romance, so reading a gay-positive and affirming church was refreshing.
This is a New Adult romance, so the biggest issues in this genre are usually striking out in the world and embarking on financial independence. That is also the case, here. Kirby works hard, but he’s essentially destitute, and Zach has money through his family, but he’s not independent. In order to be a good partner (and also to take better care of himself), Zach has to figure out that he needs to shed the “superhero” mantle he’s trained himself to wear. Kirby needs to overcome his feelings of inadequacy. Both Zach and Kirby are great characters. Neither of them are mean, or nasty or spiteful, and their break is necessary to allow the further growth they must make before they can become complete adults, capable of having a mature adult relationship. It’s a very thoughtful story, with a satisfying romance and realistic HEA. There’s some yummy sexytimes, and it’s all very sweet and spicy.